Twelve – Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Blog The Week, College

To decide to learn an entirely new medium in which to express a narrative you’re yet to completely understand is quite a task – and putting a time limit on that doesn’t make it much easier. There is only one thing I find harder than pushing through once I begin to realise I might not make it through this learning process within my intended time frame, and that’s giving up on the original idea. Sometimes you’re faced with a choice; you can either give up on your original idea, and create something – perhaps wonderful – from the scraps you’ve mustered thus far, or you can cling to the idea and let that drag you down. I hate making this choice. I hate making this choice because it’s never that simple.

Well, this is what I did when I was faced with that choice. Firstly, I decided to avoid working on the project, by finding other ‘productive’ things to do (check out my electric guitar build blog when that’s finished). Secondly, I spent days polishing what I already had, obsessively over-working myself to fix that which was unfixable or unbroken. Thirdly, I got ill, really horribly ill, I managed to time some kind of viral infection with a series of panic attacks and stress induced stomach pains. This took a good two weeks to get over. By this point I was already nostalgically attached to my perfect unfinished experiments, and I couldn’t possibly bring myself to work on them in any way, and definitely couldn’t upcycle them into anything new. Fourthly: I realised my deadline was too close to manage to create anything new from what I had already made, then I gave up on trying to give up.

Now here I am, two weeks from my deadline, with no idea of what I should do, or where I should take my project. And I have no real reason to care about how this project turns out, quite frankly I don’t have any reason to do well now, say for my own satisfaction, and perhaps my education. Going into this project I had one key goal, I wanted to create something that would be a complete, standalone piece of work, which people could observe and say, “Ben’s done something over the last two years, and this shows that.” I don’t think I’m going to manage that. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot in the last couple of months, and I know if I was to start over with a fresh idea and use this medium to express that idea I’d be much more capable of achieving that in the given time – which is an amazing thing to be able to say at this point.

One of the things I have learned is to be conscious when choosing a medium in which to work on a story you hold close to your heart, a story you’ve had floating around in your head for months and have been trying to work out how to bring to life – be that an original story or an adaptation. While not having the skills needed to use a medium to express a story shouldn’t put you off using that medium, it might be a good idea to try creating a few projects within this medium before giving the narrative to this form – as you’re unlikely to get it back, especially if you have a deadline looming for the piece. In my current project, I have spent a large amount of time learning my new medium, and despite the excitement of discovering new techniques often igniting my inspiration, I have spent a lot of time exhausting the drive I had for the project while learning. This might not always happen, in fact I’m sure doesn’t, but it’s been a losing battle for me. By the time I felt confident in expressing my idea in my chosen medium, my drive for the idea was diminishing; it’s like working with blunt tools, then spending all your energy sharpening them before you can get to doing the project, by which time you’re tired and sweaty and fed up, and working while feeling like that can kill a project – as least, your inspiration for the project.

Moving on? So far this project has been a fascinating process from me, and a process I’d like the share. I have some pieces of work I’m incredibly happy with, and I’ve learned a lot – as I keep saying. But I want to get up and start something new. I want to step back from my current project and create something exciting and fresh. But how do I do that while making progress on my Final Major Project (FMP)? I’ve decided to spend these last two weeks creating a reflective short film about this process of learning and working in a new medium. I may be using bits and pieces from the piece I’ve been working on, but I will not be working on the project directly. Hopefully this will be the fresh start I’ve been looking for. And I’ll keep this blog up to date with the work I’m doing on the new project.

Thanks for reading it.

Recording the Wind

College, experiments

Recording the wind is often a boring task, but I wanted to create something a bit different with my recordings. Using pipes of different length to record through, I could use the natural acoustic qualities of the pipes to manipulate the wind into something a little more musical, each pipe creating a different note, I can mix and match the notes to create the ideal sound for the wind in my piece – I can also use pitch shifters to tune the sounds to one another. I used four pipes: one metal, one cardboard, and two PVC pipes of different lengths. I spend about an hour recording sound in the college courtyard. I’ve included a little recording that includes some talking and some of the pipe sounds.

What does it Mean to ‘Exhibit’ pre-recorded Electroacoustic Music, and How Should I do It?

College, research

Firstly, who listens to electroacoustic music? Electroacoustic musicians, ravers, unwitting film goers? Not a great many people would actually say they listened to ‘electroacoustic music’; there are plenty of EDM-heads around, and progressive rock generally shares a lot of characteristics with electroacoustic music – say for a distinct lack of spatiality – and film soundtracks often use heavily electronically processed sound recordings to create music (often to blur the line between the soundtrack of the film and its diegetic sounds, a great example being Tarkovsky’s Stalker). The art world is saturated with great electroacoustic music, though a purist wouldn’t like to hear it – at least, not from an amateur like me. So, we do listen to electroacoustic music, but unintentionally?

I want to know how to make electroacoustic music interesting and accessible, without it being made a side-attraction; I believe electroacoustic music has the capacity to transport a person who’s totally ‘uneducated’ (in terms of music) into a fascinating sonic environment, and I want to share that.

My question is: how does one exhibit an unchanging piece of electroacoustic music (in my case a soundscape composition) and what makes live exhibition important for pre-recorded music – if it is? An equivalent question is often posed when working with film, but unlike the relationship between film and theatre, pre-recorded music and live music are often grouped incredibly closely together, though they are equally dissimilar. I believe this is partly due to a lack of adequate notation for pre-recorded electronic music – due to the prevalence of time/pitch notation – though I won’t get into that now.

In his 2014 article ‘Shamanic diffusions: a technoshamanic philosophy of electroacoustic music’, Jon Weinel

We could also look at building the environment for the listening experience, and creating a space in which the listener can be fully immersed in the composition; we could add visual stimuli and/or create a multi-sensory experience. But, personally, I don’t like supplementary visual (or other) information, as almost always this information is either unnecessary or ends up being a feature of the piece and therefore equal and necessary for the composition – thus creating something new entirely, or being a distraction. But, isolation, or a controlled listening environment, is something that could benefit my work, which makes this argument quite compelling. Then again, where does one draw the line? What is the difference between a multi-sensory exhibit, and simply creating an adequate listening environment? And should one create their piece for a particular listening environment? Kevin Austin sheds a lot of light on this question in a masterclass video on electroacoustic composition and working in an electroacoustic studio – he talks about the effect your working environment will have on your final composition.

So, how do I apply this to my work; how am I going to exhibit my work? The most important thing I’ve been considering is isolation, how does one isolate a listener from their immediate environment – considering especially how to avoid making the novelty of it a distraction? I’ve been considering two options, either the use of a separate room from the rest of the exhibition, or a semi-soundproof booth within the main exhibition. Next I want to provide the technology to experience the full scope of the music, I’ll do this by simply offering the headphones I used for mixing the piece for the listener to use, or by installing high-fidelity stereo speakers into the booth or room of the exhibition. As for visual supplements: I think I’ll keep those to a minimum.

And, finally, the reason I think this is necessary for my piece is just because people don’t like electroacoustic music – normal people don’t, and this is the only time I’ll get the chance to show normal people this work. I don’t want to make soundscapes for people who understand how I made them, and will see it as an intellectual exercise; I don’t want Trevor Wishart to enjoy my piece, nor would I want Jonty Harrison to wind down to it. I don’t see electroacoustic music that way, the mystery is one of the most beautiful parts of the experience – and I guess I just want people to experience that. Exhibition of electroacoustic music is about catching a group of people and letting them experience something they haven’t before. I remember the first time I learned how to pan a track in ‘MixCraft’ when I was about ten years old: I turned off all the lights, I got my friends to dizzy themselves, then I gave them headphones and spun the entire acoustic environment around their heads until they fell over – and they thought it was magic.

Thanks for reading my ramblings!

Eleven – Camping and Recording

Blog The Week, College

This weekend I ending up going on an unexpected camping trip, which was great! Other than being a great time, I managed to record the entire process of putting up a tent, as well as many sounds of nature and some reading of The Willows in the tent.

This post is just going to be a few photos from the trip and a couple of things I learned recording with the Zoom H4N in the middle of nowhere.

Bringing loads of batteries was a good idea, recording at 96khz and 24bit was stupid – don’t do that if you’ve only got a 4gb card. Probably use a deadcat, but a jumper will do. Bring a clamp, you can use anything as a mic stand that way. Oh, and bring loads of water, it might just be sunny.


Thanks for reading.

Ten – On Rhythm and Timing in Soundscape Composition

Blog The Week, College, planning

As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, I believe the primary literary device used (for suspense and tension) in The Willows is pacing. The use of simple devices, like alliteration and repetition, build pace throughout the text, and the periodic mention of the river along with the reoccurrence of other sonic events create expectations, which can later be broken or adhered to in order to shock or terrify the audience.

Pacing and rhythm, to me, are two descriptions of different levels of the same thing: timing. Though pacing tends to be seen as the timing of an entire piece, and rhythm being timing within a line of text or a single shot – a shorter segment of the piece – they are fundamentally the same thing. This is much the same as the relationship between pitch and timing – though less extreme – in music; pitch is simply a pulsation that happens at a speed fast enough to be perceived as a solid tone.

For me, this way of looking at time has been incredibly useful when considering ways in which to use rhythm in my sonic piece. As I am going to be truncating the narrative (or rather, ’emotional arc’ or ‘atmosphere over time’) of The Willows, I have attempted to recreate the pacing – which is so powerful – using rhythm. For a simple example: we could take the opening of the narrative, the river building in intensity, and use a rhythmic musical device to replicate that building pace that launches us into the story – we could even use a drum increasing in tempo for this opening. By changing this opening from its role in pacing the story to establishing a rhythm, in the sonic version, we are able to take what would’ve taken about ten minutes to read, and pack that same narrative/emotional/atmospheric information into perhaps a ten second build in tempo. Of course, this is a very rudimentary example, and there are obvious flaw in diminishing this build in tension to such a short piece of sound – it probably doesn’t create such suspense, the listener could simply miss it, or it could set an unwanted pace in the sonic piece that doesn’t leave space to represent faster events with any contrast – but thinking about time like this can be very practical when translating what is usually a two to three hour reading experience to a short (under half an hour) sonic composition.

That’s all I was thinking. Thanks for reading.